GUEST POST: Ragnarok; It all begins with the end of the world

Guest post by W H H Baker

Norse mythology is unusual among the well-known sets of legends from antiquity in that it doesn’t have life carrying on as usual until the end of time. Instead, the world ends in a truly epic battle where the gods will descend from their lofty thrones and ultimately lose a bloody encounter with all the dark creatures which inhabit the world. The legend says that the world is then ravaged by natural disasters and reshaped.

Although a touch bleak, I found myself wondering what it would have been like to be left behind, after an event like that. I should probably explain why my mind was travelling in this direction. After university I spent a year in Beijing learning Mandarin. Through that time I could see photos of all of my friends moving forward with life on the other side of the world, which left me, perhaps understandably, feeling a little left behind myself. Given that the most significant characters meet famously bloody ends during Ragnarok, I decided that it would make more sense for the survivor to be someone a little lower down the divine scale.

Fortunately for me, Norse mythology has the Valkyries, shield-maidens who bring the souls of worthy warriors slain in battle to serve in Odin’s host. I imagined a battle hardened character cast adrift in an unfamiliar world, a cold and bitter heroine with unending ages ahead of her. The more I thought about it, the more I fell in love with the character; so much so that I was convinced that she needed her own suitably epic tale, a true Viking saga. That was how Skjarla was born.

Inspiration strikes in the strangest ways sometimes. I was listening to my music, when the KT Tunstall song ‘Invisible Empire’ shuffled on and sparked everything going. Within the song are the lines ‘I wear a rusting crown, and I know this dynasty is falling’. I imagined the lost heir to a long since shattered kingdom, bound by fate to resurrect the forgotten dynasty. Every piece needs a villain, so I borrowed from another of the Norse myths, that of the hero Sigurd and the dragon Fafnir, Sigurd’s bloodline also gave me the dynasty I was looking for.

One of my favourite things about writing fantasy is that you start with a completely blank slate; whatever you want in there in terms of cultures, magic or monsters is fair game. I have found that one of the best things to do when writing fantasy is to start with a map, no matter how crude the artwork. For me it has two main impacts: 

  • Firstly, as I lay out the world or region, it helps me to think what cultures live where and how they interact. In the Rusted Crown, I have borrowed liberally from various periods of history, sometime directly, sometimes more as a starting point for a more fantastical version of reality. I was particularly happy with Romans who I based on the ninth legion who famously disappeared into the mists of Britain, and emerged from the spell which had bound them there when it was shattered by the remaking of the world.
  • Secondly, I find that it helps hugely with the flow of the narrative, knowing where your characters are and where they are trying to get to. I find that it helps me think more logically from their point of view, rather than just having them go as the crow flies.

Before I started writing, I realised that there could be an inconsistency between Skjarla’s character and the nature of the quest I was about to send her on. Skjarla wouldn’t just end up helping some penniless heir out of the goodness of her heart, there needed to be more to it. I ended up circling back to Fafnir, the dragon slain by Sigurd. A dead dragon on its own is not much good as a villain, so his servants would be trying to recover the teeth taken as trophies from when the dragon fell. With the dragon reassembled it could be resurrected, with suitably unpleasant consequences for the world. I didn’t think it would unreasonable for Sigurd’s heir to have one of the Fangs, and for Skjarla to want to protect it.

One side effect of dragons having a fairly substantial number of teeth, and those teeth being scattered around the world, was that Skjarla and her companions were suddenly going to be doing a lot of travelling, trying to prevent the dragon from being resurrected. As I plotted out the skeleton of how the tale would unfold, I realised that with all of the plot threads it meant that there were almost five tales within the overarching story. So I made the decision to devote separate books to each, rather than having the climax of each section lost within the book. Fortunately I have read a fair few fantasy series, so I hope that I have got the right balance between leaving enough left unsaid to make it compelling to read the second book, without it being so much of a cliff-hanger as to be downright infuriating. I leave it to you to judge if I have been successful.

About W H H Baker

William grew up in Hong Kong and the UK, before studying Natural Sciences at Durham University. He currently lives in London with his fiancé, Emily, and is training to be an auditor. William is also mad about rugby and spends much of his time with his head buried in a book.

About The Ragnarok Saga: The Rusted Crown

Ragnarok. The Norse world is ending. The Valkyrie, Skjarla, is cursed to survive the remaking of the world by the Dark goddess Hel. For centuries Skjarla wanders Midgard: monster slayer and mercenary, buried in grief and rage.

Four hundred years later, Skjarla finds herself in the small town of Lonely Barrow. There, hidden in the northern forests at the edge of the Haemocracy, she takes on a contract which proves more complicated than she could possibly have imagined.

Joined by the exiled heir to the New Roman Empire, a crusading Loptalfar and mercenaries running from their pasts. The Ragnarok Saga is a captivating journey which will test the very limits of love, endurance and courage.

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